By Matty J. Douglas

The wrestling business can be a cutthroat environment, where only the politically savvy progress and survive. Wrestlers are performers that require teamwork to put on a good show but are conditioned by the nature of the medium to do anything that they can to break out as an individual. Stories of selfishness and backstabbing are commonplace in the wrestling biz, and it’s not hard to understand why. Propelling others as a wrestler can inhibit your own ability to rise, or stay on top. Yes the wrestling industry is one built on community and trust (given the very real physical danger each and every wrestler puts themselves in during the course of their careers), but each and every member of community desires to catapult themselves over their colleagues, often at any cost (including knocking them down a few pegs).

Why the salvo on the unique dynamic of treachery and teamwork that the wrestling business provides to start my column this week? To illustrate how refreshing it is when you see guys in the business like Chris Jericho, that despite being amazing all around performers, put the business as a whole ahead of their own personal success within it. Guys like Chris, who would gladly take a loss to JTG in an attempt to jump start JTG’s career, are few and far between, and this Sunday, we very well may see the last of a trio whose work together exemplifies the term “Iron Sharpens Iron”.

I’m of course talking about The Shield, whose exploits over the course of their careers have been a shining beacon amongst an otherwise dark and gloomy WWE Landscape (they along with Daniel Bryan, Punk, and The Usos have kept me from going mad over the last year or so). This Sunday they do battle with The Wyatt Family, in what should be full on gang warfare that I’ve been very much looking forward to since their brief encounter several Monday Night Raws ago. The belief is that by Wrestlemania the group will have imploded, which will bring about the end of what I have to say in my opinion is the greatest faction in WWE history. It’s a lofty claim, but I think that their credentials speak for themselves. The Shield have put on countless fantastic matches, they did something that felt fresh and interesting in a time where almost everything feels overblown and underwhelming, and most importantly, they’ve better prepared one another to become transcendent performers once the split does take place.

Take a look at these guys in a triple threat match with one another in WWE’s former Developmental Territory FCW, prior to their grouping as The Shield for WWE Television:

Back then they all possessed something that made you excited about them. Reigns (then known as Leakee) had a great look along with power that you knew would make him pop on television. Ambrose has a presence, a charisma and ability to engage an audience that couldn’t be ignored, not to mention he can wrestle his ass off. Rollins was dynamite in the ring, a performer with energy for days and an ability to captivate an audience through movement in a way very few guys can match. All three had these enormous strengths, and some very noticeable weaknesses. Here are some excerpts from the A Matter Of Character articles I did on them:

On Roman Reigns’ Weaknesses – “In the ring, he is still developing and is far from a master technician or storyteller… Don’t expect any five star outings from this guy right now. The fact of the matter is he hasn’t yet found his voice. He doesn’t have that character that will make him special. Seemed nervous and uncomfortable talking in front of an audience…”

On Dean Ambrose’s Weaknesses – “Dean Ambrose is about 6 ‘3 and is far from being a body builder. He isn’t exactly what I’d call a physically imposing character… The guy doesn’t have the prototypical WWE frame.”

On Seth Rollins’ Weaknesses – “Seth Rollins is a smaller superstar. At six foot one, two hundred and five pounds, he is nowhere near the old prototype of what makes a successful WWE superstar… So far during his FCW career, he hasn’t exactly oozed charisma… He needs to work on showing us more of a personality.”

Reading those takes one thing becomes abundantly clear, that each of these men’s weaknesses is one of the other’s strengths. What Roman and Seth lacked in promo skills, Dean Ambrose more than made up for. What Roman lacked in technical in ring proficiency, Ambrose and Rollins made up for in spades, and what Ambrose and Rollins lacked in stature and physical strength, Roman Reigns brought more than enough to the table. This would have been enough to make them one of the most intelligently assembled factions in WWE history, building a symbiotic partnership between three talented but flawed performers, in an attempt to hide their imperfections to get the absolute most out of them.

Now however, coming to the supposed end of their run and looking back at them before coming together as The Shield, I can see that they didn’t simply hide one another’s flaws, they made each other better. Roman Reigns is an infinitely better and smarter in ring competitor than he was prior to being paired with Rollins and Ambrose. His promo ability has noticeably improved as well, and I have to say that all of the above was due in part to his faction-mates. I’ve also noticed that Ambrose, while not a beast, ahs gotten bigger, noticeably his arms, which is likely due in part to training/working out with Reigns (who is an obvious workout warrior). Rollins too has improved his promo work and has more of an on-camera presence than he ever did in FCW, and again, I partially have to credit traveling and working with Dean Ambrose for over a year, with the vast improvements Rollins has made to his biggest weakness.

What makes the way that these guys helped each other get better so truly enjoyable to me as a viewer is that they didn’t have to, and in many ways are conditioned not to. Dean could have hung his hat on being the guy who talked for the group and stood head and shoulders above the other two in that regard, but it seems as though he helped them get better, and closed that gap. Rollins and Ambrose could have been the in-ring standouts of the Shield and allowed Reigns to lag behind them, but I have to believe they helped him improve his in-ring work, rather than focus on keeping themselves ahead of him in that regard, which is very commendable. Not one of them needed to help either of the others improve. They could have showcased their own talents and let the others hid their weaknesses, but they helped each other turn those weaknesses into strengths. They made one another better in a way few factions (especially one’s as young as The Shield) ever have. The only faction that I can think of that helped develop it’s members immensely is Evolution, but that was two older guys helping two newer guys, not three newer guys all helping each other become better, well-rounded performers.

I don’t know what the lasting legacy of The Shield will be once they are gone. I know that they’ll always be commended for the quality of the matches they performed in, as well as for injecting some excitement into the WWE during a slightly dull period in their vast history. The best part of their legacy, at least as far as I’m concerned, will be how they worked together, how they helped one another improve in ways they couldn’t have on their own. They didn’t put their individual accolades ahead of improving the entire group, and are now better prepared for their careers as singles competitors because of it.

The Shield is a representation of what I wish the whole WWE was. An ensemble of performers striving not only to get a good performance out of one another, but to truly make one another better. No politics, no overinflated egos, no burying or nepotism or worrying about stealing the show. Just guys that want to put on the best overall show they can, and help their contemporaries be the best performers they can be. The Shield has been the embodiment of Iron Sharpening Iron, and ideally that’s the way everyone would be.

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There you have it, but I want to know what you think! Is The Shield the best WWE faction of all time? Does the business truly foster politicking and selfishness? Can the WWE ever on a company wide level work the way The Shield did? Or are guys always going to be averse to making their direct competition for airtime get better? And will any members of The Shield ever regret how much they helped each other improve and overcome their weaknesses in the future?

Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying I’m officially seeing Outkast perform this year, and couldn’t be more excited about it! My boyhood dream is coming true! Have a great weekend everybody.